I am thinking about the contrast between the Old Testament model of coming to God and its style of accountability to God and the church, compared to the New Testament method of creating unity in the body of Christ and coming to God.
The Law of Moses is like a shadow of the good things to come. This shadow isn't the good things themselves, because it cannot free people from sin by the sacrifices that are offered year after year.
(Heb 10:1 CEV)
The Law here is reference to the whole system of religion as prescribed by Moses in the Old Testament model. It is an external oriented system based largely on hierarchy, control, obligations and a centralized form and place of worship. It contained within it the shadow of the real spiritual reconciliation that God planned to reveal more clearly later, but that old system in itself could not accomplish full reconciliation because it was only a likeness or shadow of future realities, not the real thing. I am starting to see that this is possibly because it was external in nature and not so much internal. Although people could discern the true way to God within that system by picking up on the cues contained in it to then practice the real thing, it was rather easy for them to rely on the external forms of religion and suppose that they were enough to accomplish what was intended.
The whole book of Hebrews is a treatise on the contrast between these two systems of coming to God and it highlights the inadequacy of external attempts to reconcile with God. Reconciliation is vitally necessary if sin is every to be eradicated from the universe, for sin in its very essence is distrust of God, not simply violations of arbitrary rules and laws. God's laws themselves are only distilled expressions of internal and existential realities, so trying to conform the outward behaviors to comply with outward commands while ignoring inward realities can never accomplish the restoration of heart trust that must be accomplished if we are ever to become safe to live for eternity in a secure universe.
God is never going to rely on fear and intimidation to secure His universe from the recurrence of sin. That is Satan's method of achieving unity through conformity and God knows it could never last, for it lacks the true elements needed for real security. Yet to demonstrate that point He has allowed people to experiment for thousands of years with the external model of religion to make it plain that it can never bring about lasting change. Only a religion that is truly spiritual, internal in nature, initiated and maintained in the heart, an internal religion based on an appreciation of the truth about God and a heart resultantly transformed by that exposure will secure one's future life through true salvation.
If these sacrifices could have made the worshipers perfect, the sacrifices would have stopped long ago. Those who worship would have been cleansed once and for all. Their consciences would have been free from sin. (Hebrews 10:2 GW)
The real meaning of perfection as the word is used in the Bible actually means maturity. Obviously maturity is an inward experience that necessarily requires time and experience to develop. Time and experience alone though, may not produce real maturity as evidenced in the lives of many older people; but maturity can be developed if a person is willing to learn from their experiences and allow the Spirit of God to impart to them wisdom and growth through life experiences. Even if a person is not a Christian it is still the Holy Spirit who develops maturity no matter what background the person may come from. The Spirit works in every person's life and is constantly seeking to help everyone grow in knowledge, experience and maturity toward a restoration to the likeness of God.
This internal work of growth is the real spiritual encounter that is the only true method to prepare us for full restoration and reconciliation with God. All other methods that rely on external forms of religion, that focus more on behaviors, appearances and externals are doomed to failure. The Old Testament experiment with external procedures to bring about internal transformation proved beyond all doubt that something far more effective was needed to accomplish what must take place if real unity and reconciliation with God is ever to become a reality.
The problem that I am starting to see more clearly is that we have reinstated the old model of external based religion in an attempt to assert control over others and return to methods more familiar to us. Our human nature always gravitates toward external control in preference to internal transformation and we have embraced this for so many years that we now assume that our system of institutional hierarchy is designed by God. Yet in reality we have just returned to an old model of externalism; we have embraced principles promoted by the world that rely on force and fear as the foundation upon which to build for achieving unity in the church. But in doing so we obscure the very model that emerged in the New Testament era for a short time that thrived through the enhanced power of the Spirit.
We have now slipped so far back into the darkness of externally based religion that it is nearly impossible to for many to perceive God's original intent. We have returned to the Old Testament model of reliance on control and formalism and we resonate readily with the stories we read there. Instead of each believer being seen as a priest personally accountable to God and led to synchronize with the body by the impulses of the one Spirit that motivates all other believers, we have returned to the artificial unity model that relies more on rules, regulations and external dictates to attempt unity. We have set up denominations to segregate ourselves from others through doctrinal distinctions rather than listening individually to the Spirit and being aware of the condition of other people's spirit. We have again come to rely on lists of doctrines, liturgy and tradition rather than living from our heart and trusting God to bond His children together with love.
In essence I see that we have almost completely lost the reality of the revolution initiated by the early church that showed how to practice a life of salvation based on a personal and direct relationship with God. We have returned to the model of electing representatives to be our proxies to God rather than living as individual priests and relating to each other in true humility and love. We have distorted the real meaning of the New Testament authors and have twisted nearly everything they wrote to fit our preferred model of external religion and have thereby suppressed the truth by our traditions just as much as the Jews did. It is time for another revival of primitive godliness, a godliness based on personal relationship and accountability to God that restores a true appreciation for the priesthood of all believers that God intended as the method for leading us to full restoration.
We enter through a new way that Jesus opened for us. It is a living way that leads through the curtain--Christ's body. And we have a great priest who rules the house of God. Sprinkled with the blood of Christ, our hearts have been made free from a guilty conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. So come near to God with a sincere heart, full of confidence because of our faith in Christ. We must hold on to the hope we have, never hesitating to tell people about it. We can trust God to do what he promised. We should think about each other to see how we can encourage each other to show love and do good works. We must not quit meeting together, as some are doing. No, we need to keep on encouraging each other. This becomes more and more important as you see the Day getting closer. (Heb 10:20-25 ERV)
The Lord Jesus is the living stone. The people of the world decided that they did not want this stone. But he is the one God chose as one of great value. So come to him. You also are like living stones, and God is using you to build a spiritual house. You are to serve God in this house as holy priests, offering him spiritual sacrifices that he will accept because of Jesus Christ.
...People stumble because they don't obey what God says. This is what God planned to happen to those people. But you are his chosen people, the King's priests. You are a holy nation, people who belong to God. He chose you to tell about the wonderful things he has done. He brought you out of the darkness of sin into his wonderful light. In the past you were not a special people, but now you are God's people. Once you had not received mercy, but now God has given you his mercy. (1Peter 2:4-5, 8-10 ERV)
This 'new way' that Jesus opened up in contrast with the old external model is sometimes referred to as the 'priesthood of all believers'. This term sometimes elicits strong reactions from people, especially those with vested interests in the status quo system designed to control people in the name of unity. I'm concerned that we have come to the place where we are too afraid to trust that the Holy Spirit is more than capable of bringing unity to the body of Christ without intervention from people obsessed by corporate agendas. We have come to believe that the authoritarian model of the Old Testament must be carried over into our day to prop up what appears to be weaknesses in this 'new way' opened up by Jesus. But is this really necessary?
Paul and the other apostles struggled to not only understand but to live life in this new way, but sometimes they slipped back into old ways of thinking themselves. Peter still had to deal with his own internal prejudices against gentiles and even had to be publicly rebuked by Paul at one point. Others began thinking that many other requirements of the familiar old ways of religion were necessary to impose on new believers coming into the church, and they carried a great deal of influence causing consternation and discouragement for many who became confused by the mixed signals they were receiving.
In our day we often think those are controversies of the past that no longer haunt us. But in that thinking we fail to perceive the underlying conflict of basic principles in the two systems of thought. We assume that since we don't argue about making animal sacrifices or follow other Old Testament traditions that we are free from the legalism that plagued the Jews. But far from being free we simply have produced our own brand of prejudice that we find perfectly acceptable and sometimes even believe is necessary for salvation. We are still addicted to external forms of religion and insist that external performances and controls are indispensable for achieving unity. At the same time we ignore the central issue that Jesus came to reveal, the essence of this 'new way' that He opened up for all of us to experience.
As I observe the language of much of the New Testament I see that it is focused primarily on changes at the heart level with outward symptoms regarded as just that – symptoms and not the primary issue. Yet living from a growing, transforming heart and giving everyone else complete freedom to live according to their own convictions is too scary for most of us to tolerate. We want to achieve unity and conformity using both methods. We want to use love when it seems to work but keep the option of resorting to other methods based on force, fear, shame and condemnation when we deem it necessary. But in doing so we corrupt the 'new way' that Jesus revealed, this way of living from the heart in personal accountability and dependence on God as individual priests in concert with all other believers who likewise live in personal accountability to God. By relying on a mixture of worldly methods and heavenly principles we misrepresent the gospel and lose the beauty and much of the true attraction of salvation.
No one uses a new piece of cloth to patch old clothes. The patch would shrink and tear a bigger hole. No one pours new wine into old wineskins. The wine would swell and burst the old skins. Then the wine would be lost, and the skins would be ruined. New wine must be put into new wineskins. Both the skins and the wine will then be safe. (Matthew 9:16-17 CEV)
It is true that some have discredited this truth by employing these facts to cover over a spirit of rebellion. This is all too easy to do and I know this from personal experience and frequent temptations. Yet just because it is so easy to slip into counterfeit thinking should not discredit the existence of the authentic. I have observed that the devil tries to push us to one extreme or the other to keep us as far as possible away from experiencing the real truth that both sides miss. Jesus alluded to this when He spoke about worshiping in spirit and truth to the woman of Samaria. Either one of these without the other becomes useless unless the two are practiced in the same heart. Then the resultant outpouring of life and praise and worship will become an irresistible testimony similar to that of the life of Jesus Himself who came to reveal the truth about His Father by personal example.